MONTPELIER — Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is considering the details of how a presidential campaign might look and operate as he nears a decision on whether to run, according to an advisor who met with the state’s junior senator over the weekend.
Tad Devine, a veteran campaign operative who worked on the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, huddled with Sanders and others in Vermont over the weekend to continue discussions that have been ongoing for months. A decision from the 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist is expected by the end of the month, according to Devine.
“If he’s going to do this it’s going to be a serious campaign. It’s not going to be a symbolic campaign. It’s not going to be Bernie walking around by himself talking to people and maybe having a debate or two later in the year,” he said Monday.
Sanders’ interest in running for president is no secret — he’s flirted with the idea since last year and has traveled several times to Iowa and New Hampshire where the first primary contests take place. But his interest in running has always included some caveats — is there enough support for his vision around the country, and can he raise enough money to compete with Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady who announced her own bid Sunday in a video.
Recent trips to Texas, California and Nevada have shown Sanders there is support for his message, according to Devine.
“I think what he’s learning is that there’s a lot of support out there for a … progressive candidate that wants to talk about the issues that he wants to talk about,” Devine said.
Sanders is finding that people are concerned about climate change. And, Devine said, they worry about the impact of the Citizens United court case on American democracy and “the fact that campaigns are no longer about candidates raising money and running campaigns under their own banner.”
“That’s something that he really is finding as he travels around the country that is really there that previously didn’t exist,” Devine said.
Sanders issued a statement Sunday following Clinton’s announcement. Calling the former Democratic New York senator “an experienced and well-qualified leader,” Sanders urged her and other candidates to speak about the issues he cares about.
“During this campaign, it is imperative that Secretary Clinton, like every other candidate, address the great challenges of our time: the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that is crushing our middle class; high unemployment and low wages; the threat that global climate change presents to our future and the future of our children; and the fact that democracy itself is at risk because of the catastrophic decision of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case which is allowing billionaires to spend unlimited sums to buy the government of United States,” Sanders said. “I hope that Secretary Clinton will speak out on these and other important issues in the days and weeks ahead.”
Devine said Sanders understands Clinton has “enormous support,” vast resources and experience from her failed 2008 bid. But a Sanders campaign will focus on promoting his own ideas, not running against Clinton.
“I think one of the things that he understands … is that if he’s going to succeed in this process it’s not going to be by reacting to her in any way. He’s got to plot a distinctive, strategic course to success,” Devine said. “Reacting to Hillary or dealing with her in that respect, no, that’s not really a consideration.”
What is a consideration is whether to run at all, Sanders and his advisors say. Should he choose to run, Sanders will “take some actionable steps” by the end of the month, according to Devine. He declined to comment on the “technical stuff,” like whether Sanders would launch an exploratory committee or a full-throated campaign by May.
“There are many hours to be spent with many lawyers and compliance people before you answer that question. We’ve already had some of that discussion,” Devine said.
If there is a campaign, look for its headquarters to be nestled in the Green Mountains.
“Certainly, if he decides to do this, I think Vermont is probably the best place to sort of center the campaign like [former Gov.] Howard Dean did. He’s got a lot of resources there that know him that want to contribute,” Devine said.
And the resources, including a devoted following willing to work on Sanders’ behalf, are conveniently located right across the Connecticut River from the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
“Being next to New Hampshire is a very good thing for candidates,” Devine said. “All those decisions haven’t been made yet. If he decides to do this he’ll probably want to look at taking advantage of his assets.”
Devine’s media consulting firm, Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, will help guide Sanders’ media strategy if he runs, but the campaign will be run by others.
“Presidential campaigns, they should be run by young people. Guys like me give a lot of advice and maybe have sense of how things work, having done it before,” he said. “We’ll be involved but if he does this we’re going to have to get some good people involved.”